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Opinions vary on TE Jesse James

Ray Fittipaldo 7 years ago

One of the great things about the NFL draft is how much opinions vary on players. One scout can have a strong opinion about a player and another can have such a differing opinion that it makes you wonder if they watched the same player in college.

As is often the case with mid-round picks, opinions varied on Penn State tight end Jesse James, the player the Steelers selected with their fifth-round pick on Saturday.

Here is one scout’s take from Nolan Nawrocki’s 2015 NFL draft guide: “I put him in the sixth round. There is now ‘wow’ factor. He is a backup at best. I see no upside.”

Others believed he was one of the top tight ends in the 2015 tight end class. Rob Rang of CBS and nfldraftscout.com had James as his No. 5 tight end the No. 123 overall prospect in the draft. He projected James as a fourth-round pick.

The Steelers waited until the fifth round and believe he does have upside. They might have to develop his skills for a season – a redshirt season in effect – but that often is the route young players who declare early must take. James, who stands 6 feet 7 and weighs 261 pounds, will be a 21-year old rookie.

“He is a big, potentially gifted athlete,” general manager Kevin Colbert said. “He is probably not where he needs to be. As a junior coming out early, he still has growth potential and I don’t mean physically, I mean in his game. He’ll continue to develop as a blocker. He is one of the few guys in this draft who we viewed as a Y, an attached tight end that could block a defensive end. We are excited that Jesse James was available.”

With Heath Miller and Matt Spaeth entrenched as the starter and top backup, James does not have produce early. He will be the No. 3 or No. 4 tight end as a rookie with hopes of moving up the depth chart after Miller, 32, and Spaeth, 31, conclude their careers. Miller is signed through 2016 and Spaeth through next season.

Tight ends coach James Daniel believes James can develop into a red-zone target for Ben Roethlisberger. And there is plenty of evidence that suggests he has the tools to accomplish that. Not only did he measure as the tallest receiver or tight end at the NFL combine this year, but he led all tight ends at the combine with a 10-foot, 1-inch broad jump, and he had a 37-inch vertical leap.

James does not possess great speed (he ran a 4.72 in the 40-yard dash), but as a red-zone and intermediate target there could be some potential to tap.

James does not believe his receiving skills were tapped in college.

“In the system we ran, I didn’t have a chance to show how athletic I am,” James said. “I’ll have a shot to do that in the future, being able to show exactly what I can do in the receiving aspect of the game.”

As for his ability in the red zone: “I think it’s just the way I can move my body and my size. The red zone is an area where you want a guy with my measurables to help execute.”

The Steelers can certainly use the help in the red zone. Whether James can lend a hand in 2015 will be determined this summer in Latrobe.